Hospitals Must Provide Life-Saving Care Despite Pressure To Do Otherwise, Says ACLU

December 15, 2010

One Of Nation's Largest Hospital Systems Under Pressure To Deny Emergency Care

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix is pressuring one of the nation's largest hospital systems to stop providing life-saving abortions. The message came in a letter responding to a decision in November 2009 by St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix to provide a life-saving abortion to a young mother of four. The doctors at the hospital had determined that without the medical procedure, the woman would almost certainly have died.

In a November 22, 2010 letter to Catholic Healthcare West (CHW), revealed today in news reports, Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix, does not deny that the medical care the Arizona patient received at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix was necessary to save her life. Yet Olmsted, in the letter, states that the hospital "has actively engaged in an abortive procedure that is immoral" and threatens to remove his endorsement of the hospital unless CHW "acknowledge[s] in writing that the medical procedure that resulted in the abortion at St. Josephs' Hospital was a violation" of the policy that governs all Catholic hospitals and "will never occur again at St. Joseph's Hospital."

The American Civil Liberties Union, citing the Arizona incident and other refusals of emergency care, wrote to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in July alerting them to the potential violations of federal law by religiously affiliated hospitals that refuse to provide emergency abortions and requesting an investigation.

The following can be attributed to Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project:

"What we are talking about here is providing life-saving procedures to women who are at risk of dying. A hospital's first responsibility must be to protect the health of its patients.

"St. Joseph's Hospital did the right thing when it saved a seriously ill woman's life. We encourage the hospital, despite the pressure it is under, to continue to provide compassionate, necessary and legally required health care.

"Religiously affiliated hospitals are not exempt from federal laws that protect a patient's right to receive emergency care, and cannot invoke their religious status to jeopardize the health and lives of pregnant women. Women should never have to be afraid that they will be denied life-saving medical care when they enter a hospital."
 
The ACLU's letter, which explains the federal laws requiring hospitals to provide emergency care, can be found at: www.aclu.org/reproductive-freedom/aclu-letter-centers-medicare-and-medicaid-regarding-denial-reproductive-health-

The Diocese of Pheonix's letter can be found at: www.aclu.org/religion-belief-reproductive-freedom/letter-roman-catholic-diocese-phoenix-catholic-healthcare-west

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